On June 30, President Obama announced that he would ask Congress to eliminate the screening process that protects immigrant children who arrive in the United States without parents. Some in Congress now seek to change the law to speed the deportation of children to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala without regard to their best interests as children.
This response to the rising numbers of children arriving from Central America ignores the reasons many of these children are fleeing. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras now have some of the highest homicide rates in the world. Many of the children currently arriving in the U.S. were targeted by gangs for forcible recruitment, or witnessed crimes, experienced threats, or faced sexual violence or extortion at the hands gang members. Others are fleeing situations of domestic violence and child trafficking. Still others were targeted by vigilante death squads who persecute and murder children in gang-controlled neighborhoods.
The failure of regional governments to protect these children must not be compounded by our own country’s additional failure to evaluate whether these children might be eligible for asylum or other humanitarian relief.
For our Jesuit ministries, the fate of these children strikes particularly close to home. For the past several years, as we witnessed the rising tide of violence in Central America and the forced migration consequences in the region, the U.S. Jesuit Conference has partnered with social ministries in Honduras, a country grappling with the fallout of instability, insecurity, impunity and the penetration of the political sector and police by organized crime. One of the organizations that has partnered with the Jesuit social center in Honduras, an organization which labors to combat a culture of impunity for crimes against women and girls, recently conveyed to us the heartbreaking account of why one of their pre-teen clients was forced to flee Honduras.
After “Leticia” was raped by over a dozen gang members, she and her family reported the crime to the police. They immediately began to receive death threats. In the absence of any protection, and indeed suspected complicity by local police in the gang’s terror campaign, the local partner attempted to relocate Leticia to a trusted women’s shelter. The women’s shelter refused to take the case because of fear that they would not be able to protect either Leticia or their other beneficiaries from the gang. In the end to protect Leticia from further harm, she had to be sent to another country.
Giving a Border Patrol agent sole discretion—without any judicial review—to decide whether a child fleeing such harrowing circumstances should be allowed to seek protection in the U.S. ignores the child’s best interest and imperils U.S. obligations to not return refugees to their persecutors.
Join us in telling Congress not to gut due process protections enshrined in the bi-partisan Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act of 2008.